Casting a Wider Net

How Juniors Rescued Surf Life Saving

The changing face of surf life saving is, in no small part, due to the ever-evolving inclusion of juniors.

This pennant was won by the junior boat crew of Caves Beach Surf Life Saving Club (SLSC) at a 1961 surf life saving carnival. This competition was held by their ‘sister club,’ Swansea-Belmont SLSC, with both clubs being part of the larger Newcastle Branch of the Surf Life Saving Association of Australia (SLS).

Until the mid 1960s, junior surf life savers were exclusively young men and the winners of this pennant would have been no exception. There was a minimum age policy for membership of a surf life saving club and, to qualify as a surf life saver, candidates had to obtain their Surf Bronze Medallion which was only eligible for men aged 16 years or over – women were simply not able to officially participate.

However, this was also a time where change began to feel do-or-die. In 1964, with membership numbers dwindling, the Newcastle Branch decided to drive new recruitment by establishing the ‘Little Nippers.’ This meant that SLSCs in the branch would now welcome boys aged five to fifteen.

While this would create a new thriving junior movement for decades to come, it yet again excluded young girls and women.

During this period, women’s official participation in surf life saving was mostly restricted to support and back office functions. However, with women stepping up to fill patrols during WWII and hosting an unofficial ‘Nipperettes’ carnival in 1973, they found ways to participate despite this lack of official recognition.

In 1980, surf life saving saw a major reform when women were finally permitted to become fully qualified lifesavers, meaning that young girls could now be accepted into the Nippers program. These changes have shifted the national culture of surf life saving. In 2020-21, women made up 46% of SLS members and 49% of junior members.

Now with over 250 junior members, Caves Beach SLSC fosters a greater diversity of dedicated young people who may go on to save lives, while laying the foundation for an active and healthy lifestyle.